The Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookies Around

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Big O cookies from the Bakehouse

Earlier this year, my friend Melissa Clark wrote in the New York Times,

It may come as a shock to legions of chocolate chip devotees, but there’s a small but passionate faction of cookie lovers who prefer oatmeal raisin. It’s not that we just tolerate oatmeal raisin cookies, nor that we think of them as a dignified second best. It’s that we would, in fact, brush past a teetering stack of fancy chocolate chunk mega-cookies to get just one nubby, chewy, dried-fruit-speckled disk of oatmeal raisin.

You can count me as one member of Ms. Clark’s coterie of oatmeal raisin cookie lovers. I deeply appreciate dark chocolate straight from the bar, but when it comes to cookies, oatmeal raisin are much more my thing. We’ve been making these remarkably good Big O oatmeal raisin cookies for over 30 years now! They have long been one of my favorite things we make! In fact, they’re even better than when we first started baking them—beginning to mill our own grain at the Bakehouse about six years ago significantly enhanced the complexity and depth of their flavor! 

Italian designer Giorgio Armani once said, “I love things that age well—things that don’t date, that stand the test of time, and that become living examples of the absolute best.” These simple but super good oatmeal cookies prove his point for me. They are exceptionally excellent. Every time I take a bite of one, I’m reminded why I like them so much. Excellence in such a simple, super accessible form totally makes me smile. 

The Big O’s are, in many ways, what I think Zingerman’s is all about. As I wrote about at length in the pamphlet “A Taste of Zingerman’s Food Philosophy,” they are the kind of full-flavored, traditional foods that sit at the center of the approach we’ve taken here for the last 42 years. Like the Bakehouse’s Ginger Jump-Up cookies and Zinglish Muffins, the Creamery’s Cream Cheese, Fried Chicken at the Roadhouse, and so many more, I love it when we can take something that’s often mundane out in the market and make it over into a world-class offering that everyone—including a high-end Italian designer—can enjoy. 

The cookies are so good, in great part, because we start with an inspiring array of ingredients: Organic soft white wheat grown by Kischnick Farms in Frankenmuth that we mill fresh at the Bakehouse, old-fashioned organic rolled oats, big juicy red flame raisins, Muscovado brown sugar, and maple syrup from Michigan Maple Farms in Rudyard—the maple syrup alone makes for a marvelously magical cookie. Add in real vanilla, some Indonesian cinnamon, and nutmeg. The depth of flavor and complexity is wonderful! 

Oatmeal biscuits of some sort have been around for centuries. Raisins were certainly used in some recipes as a sweetener, but oatmeal and raisins were not a bonded pair in the way we think of them in the world of 21st-century cookie making. Raisins became the accepted American “norm” for oatmeal cookies only early in the 20th century when Quaker began printing a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies on every carton of their oats. They shared the same marketing firm as Sun-Maid Raisins, and the collaboration came about! This was right about the same time Rocco and Katherine Disderide were building the Deli’s building to house their corner grocery so it’s not hard to imagine them stocking the new Quaker Oats packages on their shelves.

Big O cookies are great for breakfast with your morning coffee—they’re like a little bowl of oatmeal in a baked-off, handheld form. Drive through the Roadshow, and grab a cup of Roadhouse Joe or a cappuccino and a cookie for the road! For an afternoon treat, they’re delicious just as they are, and pretty much perfect with a pot of Costa Rica that’s the Roaster’s Pick this month. 

And maybe, if you’re feeling generous, consider making Melissa Clark’s suggestion real. She writes, “Be sure to save a few to share with chocolate chip cookie fans. You just may bring them, at least temporarily, over to the oatmeal side.” In the process, they might realize that something they had perceived as peripheral belongs front and center on their cookie continuum!